Read these three articles. Let us begin...
1. P-G: Allegheny County seeking ways to bolster reserve fund. (P-G, Len Barcousky)
Carrying just a 1% cushion is just awful. Awful! Know that.
All credible experts say governments should carry at least 4-5% for [finger quotes] "just in case." Meteor strikes and more routine bad news. Flooding. Unexpected company.
Borrowing interest rates are at historic lows, so Rich Fitzgerald's idea to float a bond is by no means ludicrous. Yet it is so much more pleasant going into debt when we can imagine returns on investments in specific programs or infrastructure -- debt simply to fill the cash box seems unfortunate. Especially if there is a structural deficit at work, and we are just going to have to go to the well once again in a couple years.
Enter new Republican County Council member at-large Heather Heidelbaugh:
"I am in favor of an entire package that would look at raising revenues in ways we haven't considered in 15 years and then rolling back the millage," she said.
The county needed an additional $12 million to $14 million to close its budget gap, and it might be able to find some of that revenue in revised fee schedules, she said. "It is responsible to look at how much an individual user of government services is paying for a service and whether that covers the actual cost [of providing it]," she said.
"We also might be able to raise some revenue in a capitalistic way in the medical examiner's office," she said. (ibid)
Heidelbaugh is talking in a way that I like to hear. Keeping the scornful rhetoric in check. Strumming her partisan ideology like a steady bass guitar, not wailing on it solo like some kind of double-necked synth.
If county Democrats can begin working with some credible Republican governing partners, that can only help move things along.
Also, a note on gas drilling on County land for County profit: This Region Be Fracking. There is no ignoring that. If we can identify and vet an Allegheny County site and get involved in pursuing a pilot project, the public oversight employed might turn the whole thing into an excellent laboratory experiment. That is, in addition to the revenue, which, once again, we seem to require in an awful way.
Oh, but one last thing [Columbo impersonation] take note that we recently discovered that back when we raised the sales tax by 1%, we didn't break the County by any means.
2. Trib: Pitt's academic power draws students, prestigious research dollars. (Trib, Erdley & Boren)
It's nice to have a rock star institution in the heart of the city, and the Mark Nordenberg needs to be congratulated for that.
“The universities taking property off the tax rolls has always been an issue,” said Frank Gamrat, a senior research associate with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Castle Shannon. “But there are a lot of positives to having them there. They bring people into the city to work. Those people contribute to the city indirectly, through wage taxes and supporting other businesses. (ibid)
I don't see why we must have so much trouble conceiving of both. Appreciate and cultivate the wages, revenue and activity the University provides, while understanding that property tax exemptions present serious issues of imbalance. It was not this hard to build out a sewer system, for example, back when steel and coal were the driving forces.
Public officials need to continue working on divining appropriate instruments by which we might glean for the public only appropriate shares of our Non-For-Profits' impressively deft wealth aggregation practices. Even if those solutions are narrowly tailored by case or category.
In 2008, [Nordenberg] agreed to chair a 13-member committee assembled by Ravenstahl and then-Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato to study the pros and cons of consolidating city and county governments.
Though the group worked for 17 months, little came of its report recommending “functional cooperation,” Nordenberg acknowledged.
“There clearly was resistance,” Nordenberg said. “It has not gone far at all, and so you could say that perhaps it has become yet another of those reports that is gathering dust on shelves.” (ibid)
That old thing (pdf). To think this was once exciting. The idea was to obliterate just one government out of over a hundred (the City of Pittsburgh) and turn it into an "Urban Services District" of the County. Practicalities and functional consolidations and cooperations were missing from the focus, and the ambient disengagement turned the much-anticipated final product into a poison pill. There is so much refreshing frankness in this interview with Nordy -- the up-side of a puff piece.
Oh, and one more thing ... and this just popped into my inbox yesterday ... the affordability of college education? Word is out on the street, it doesn't add up for most people. Soon it will be trendy to say, "college is a rip off".
I had seen the characterization of this as "crazy", but not the defense of it as "absolutely false." That debate is rather important.
We must needs use Michael Lamb's sortie here, and the fundamental pension-management issues surrounding it, as a springboard to begin considering these Lamb / Peduto / Ravenstahl determinations facing Pittsburgh soon. And in a very capitalistic way. Pittsburgh deserves clarity as to its options as early as workable, so it can make real and conscious choices when those times come. This major project however will have to wait until next week. And unfortunately for Our Controller we can't simply rely on financial numbers and transparency practices... there are neighborhood development issues, infrastructure issues, personality issues, boy this will take the whole solid week of the 17th.